Album Review: Ariana Grande, ‘eternal sunshine’

    In describing eternal sunshine as “kind of a concept album” that just “fell into place,” Ariana Grande doesn’t afford her seventh record quite the credit it deserves. Yes, it’s not devoted, by any means, to its culty sci-fi namesake, Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which ex-lovers subject themselves to memory erasure to rid themselves of one another, but its ambivalent remembrance of a bygone relationship directly mirrors the resistance to forget of Kaufman’s lead, and in turn it expands upon the established ethos of Grande’s thank u, next. The film, then, is more than just an effective metaphor to put to rest her recently headlining relationship strife — it offers a touching framing device that adds to the Grande breakup guidebook and, actually, indeed forges her first clean-cut concept record.

    Parallels between the two are plentiful. Where previous release Positions drenched itself in stability and contentment, eternal sunshine is the polar opposite, dealing instead with endings. Here, lines blur between love and hate in a post-breakup haze, where memory lets love linger. In the role of Peaches — a vague counterpart to Kate Winslet’s fraught Clementine, then — a newly separated Grande struggles to let go, settle on any one emotion in particular, or move forward amid new love and accusations that threaten to taint memory and truth. She commits this loss to the past, oddly, on her most peppy body of work in recent years.

    Straying from the mellow sounds of Positions, eternal sunshine beams with lush 90s R&B and long-dormant pop sensibility. With pop pioneer Max Martin at the helm, it’s no surprise catharsis takes the lead to accurately portray Grande’s resolution to persist. At its front end, Grande knows relationships come-and-go. On the soulful ‘bye’ she puts it simply: “This ain’t the first time I’ve been hostage to these tears […] Bye, bye/ Boy, bye/ It’s over.” Later, on the Robyn-inspired, rollicking electropop hit ‘we can’t be friends (wait for your love)’, Grande parallels Kaufman’s memory erasure — “I just want to let this story die,” she sings, and then, amid heartache and delirium, seeks mind-alteration on ‘i wish i hated you’. Marred by grief, on the cutesy trap title track she can’t deny that, somewhere, he will always be her “eternal sunshine,” and finally, forever changed, to her latest she confesses she’s “fucked up, anxious, too much” on acoustic pop standout ‘imperfect for you’, corresponding with Clementine’s admission that she’s “just a fucked-up girl looking for [her] own peace of mind”. After near-constant scrutiny under the public eye, such a starkly confessional approach lends itself to this all-encompassing capsule of Ariana-branded pop — eternal sunshine could well be a self-titled statement record in another life.

    Such scrutiny seems to restrict any possibility of moving on. Particularly potent is Grande’s breaking of the fourth wall, a sudden but necessary dropping back to earth to discredit dissenters (not unlike Jim Carrey’s Joel awakening during his procedure). Amid allegations of infidelity from tabloids, Grande hits back at gossips to course-correct the narrative: she offers to “play the villain” if need be on the quintessentially 90s RnB ‘true story’. “I’m so done with caring/What you think, no, I won’t hide/ Underneath your own projections,” she sings on the anthemic, ‘Vogue’-indebted lead ‘yes, and?’ and then asks “Why do you care so much whose dick I ride?” The jabs are scarce, mind — more a by-the-way than a full confessional: “My tongue is sacred/ I speak upon what I like.” Careening towards carelessness, she flexes muscles never-before-seen in her catalogue, and referential throwbacks suit the newfound knack for rebuttal and self-assurance.

    By its end, those parallels to Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine offer a pertinent lesson: Grande’s eternal sunshine acts as the final excision of memory, an ode to honour and keep contained her eternal sunshine and associated distresses — a kind of part two to the thank u, next thesis that allows a deserved and long-awaited return to full capacity. Speaking with Zane Lowe, Grande told that healing has positively impacted her work: “I’ve loved every minute of making this album — more than ever before in my life.” A break-up album from the other side, then, eternal sunshine is Grande’s most interesting yet, not least for its concept but for the creative joy and growth at its heart: old school R&B and contemporary pop pushes Grande’s staple opulence to new highs; cult sci-fi cinema unfurls a true-to-life processing and honouring of lost love; and the boldness of eternal sunshine suggests she’s having fun setting the record straight, too — a bit of sun amid all the rain.

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    In describing eternal sunshine as "kind of a concept album" that just "fell into place," Ariana Grande doesn’t afford her seventh record quite the credit it deserves. Yes, it’s not devoted, by any means, to its culty sci-fi namesake, Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of...Album Review: Ariana Grande, 'eternal sunshine'